Recently, I began tracking down some great Jewish football players. Gus Ornstein, while never on an official opening day NFL roster bounced around practice squads. But he was best known as a quality NCAA Quarterback. First made a name for himself at the legendary Notre Dame but eventually transferred to Michigan State. We caught up with Ornstein to hear about his career and where he is today. Thanks to Ornstein for connecting with TGR!
1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan until I was about 7 and then my family moved to Tenafly, NJ. I attended the Fieldston School for high school. I was drafted by the Seattle Mariners my senior year of high school but turned it down to play football and baseball at Notre Dame. I ended up transferring after one year because I lost my red shirt year after appearing in a game vs Navy. I went to Michigan State and played baseball and football there. I was drafted by the Kansas City Royals after my sophomore year but turned it down to focus on football and then was drafted by the Yankees after my junior year. I took a semester off from MSU and went to play one year of minor league baseball with the Yankees.
After my season with the Yankees I decided to return to football and played one season at Rowan and led them to D3 National Championship. I was then signed as undrafted free agent with the Rams. I was then cut by the Rams and returned to MSU in order to graduate and graduated Suma Cum Laude.
I then spent time with Colts, Dolphins, Jets and KC Chiefs. I also played a season in NFL Europe with the Scottish Claymores. and a season in the CFL with the BC Lions
2) You got to play for Lou Holtz. What kind of a coach was he?
Lou was an incredible coach and motivator. He was also very demanding and expected a lot and would put a lot of pressure on you in practice in an effort to simulate the pressure you would face in a game. He once told me the three toughest jobs in the world were President of the US, Mayor of NYC and QB at ND!!
3) Not many Jewish athletes go to Notre Dame. What was that experience like?
It was an incredible experience. There was a great Jewish community in South Bend and they were very supportive and would reach out to me all the time. I learned a ton while there and many people learneda lot from me as well. I truly enjoyed my time in South Bend and my decision to leave was purely a football decision.
4) Why did you decide to transfer to Michigan State? What was the biggest difference between the two schools?
I decided to transfer because I had lost my red shirt year at ND after playing in a game vs Navy. In the off season I had asked Holtz if I would have the opportunity to compete with Ron Powlus for the starting job and he basically said that Ron would be the starter no matter what. That meant that since I had lost my red shirt year that I would sit behind him for the next 3 years and never play. When looking to transfer I visited Ohio State, LSU and MSU and really fell in love with MSU. I liked that they were bringing in a new coaching staff and that I would be the first QB recruit to come in with that staff- I also liked that they were going to be putting in a pro style offense.
I loved MSU– much bigger school than ND and I ended up really enjoying the size of MSU. I also ended up being a communication major and had amazing professors- two of which I am still close to today.
5) You moved around the NFL a bit. What was the most challenging part of the transition from college to the pros?
I found it difficult to break in and get an opportunity. In each experience I felt that I could play and felt it was hard to get the opportunity to really prove myself. I had incredible experiences on each team that I played for and met amazing people and developed great relationships. But would have loved to have been able to stick with one team and made a career out of it! I felt I had the ability but just never got into the right situation or when in the right situation just did not really get that chance to prove my ability.
6) Where was your best experience in the NFL and why?
I love Indy- loved being able to be around Peyton and learn from him. That was just an incredible experience and he was an awesome guy and tremendous leader and mentor. I learned so much during my time in Indy. I also loved that coaching staff and really felt that my skill set fit with what they were trying to do offensively. I also enjoyed the staff and the guys on the team- just a great atmosphere with that group.
7) Who was the best player you played against and with?
The best player I played against in college would probably be Sam Madison or Grant Wistrom and best player that I played with would have been Derrick Mason at MSU– in the NFL– Peyton Manning.
8) What was your Jewish life like growing up?
For me Judaism was always associated with family. We did not spend much time in temple but we always celebrated all the high holidays and always made sure we get together with family and extended family on those days and would always discuss and relate the holiday. Still to this day I love the Jewish holidays as I look forward to getting together with family and I look forward to discussing the holidays- especially now as I have three daughters of my own- it is important that they understand their Jewish identity. I also found my Jewish identity grew stronger as I moved around the country- growing up in NYC and going to high school in NYC I was surrounded by Jewish people- but as I went through my career there were so many times when I was the only Jewish person around and that was very challenging at times and made me appreciate the upbringing I had that much more as well as my Jewish culture and identity.
9) What are you up to today? I am currently the athletic director at Fieldston (my alma mater!) I am in my 4th year as the AD and my 13th year as head football coach and I absolutely love it! Fieldston has always been an incredibly special place and to have the opportunity to have returned home has just been so rewarding for me